Talking Freely About Depression and Anxiety

I think we need to talk more openly about depression and anxiety in our churches.

Several weeks ago I mentioned in a sermon that I have struggled with anxiety throughout my life. Immediately after my sermon a woman came up to me and asked me to pray for her because she was struggling with anxiety. She said, “I’m glad you mentioned it, because it made me feel like I could come up and ask for prayer.”

Think about it for a second. Millions of people around the world struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, and millions of people within our churches struggle as well. Many women go through a period of strong depression following the birth of a child. Many great Christians of the past have struggled with depression, such as Charles Spurgeon, William Cowper, and David Brainerd.

And yet for some reason, we don’t like to talk about it. It feels weird and uncomfortable. Why is it such a taboo subject? I think that there are a couple reasons.

We Don’t Understand It

Most of us have not and will not experience true depression and anxiety. Yes we get sad and yes we get worried, but this is just isn’t the same. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating and crushing in ways that normal sadness and worry are not. Because we haven’t experienced it, we have difficulty understanding those who are sinking in the darkness, and we tend to compound the matter by saying, “I do understand.” And when people feel misunderstood, they are hesitant to talk about their struggles.

We Misapply the Doctrine of Sin

The biblical doctrine of sin is one of the most helpful, life-giving doctrines available. The Bible informs me that my heart is sinful and deceitful, and that there is a war taking place within me between the Holy Spirit and indwelling sin. But, the doctrine of sin is one that must be handled with kid gloves, especially when dealing with topics like depression and anxiety. When someone is struggling with serious depression, it doesn’t automatically mean that they are sinning in unbelief or failing to believe the promises of God. There may be some element of that, but it is also likely that there is something physically wrong with them as well.

After all, the Bible tells us that sin has affected every part of man, both soul and body. 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Our outer man, including our brain, is wasting away.

Depression is not just a matter of the soul. It really is a matter of the body as well, and we need to understand that. When someone tells me that they have a splitting headache, I don’t immediately ask them how their soul is doing. I may get to that, but not immediately. When someone tells us that they are struggling with depression and I immediately move to spiritual diagnosis, I’m not helping them, I’m discouraging them, and tempting them to close down.

The Solution?

So what exactly am I proposing? Tomorrow I’ll put up some more specific suggestions, but for now let me propose this. Let’s try to create a culture in which our friends who are depressed or anxious feel comfortable talking about it. And that starts with listening to them as they describe their struggle and being quick to offer comfort and slow to offer solutions.

More on this tomorrow.

+photo by Sander van der Wel

The Forgotten Quotes Of Charles Spurgeon

Like many preachers, I like to quote Charles Spurgeon. Recently I came into possession of the only existing copy of an extremely rare book: The Forgotten Quotes of Charles Spurgeon.  These quotes give us an unusual and inspirational glimpse into the mind of the Prince of Preachers. Here is a sampling:

Sometimes when I am preaching I have 12 separate thoughts in my head at once. Then I take my medicine.

God chose the weak to shame the strong.  And he chose the ugly to shame the good looking.  I’m living proof.

The anvil is not afraid of the hammer.  But my thumb is.

Sometimes I do the very things I hate–like slamming my shoulder into thin persons.

Sometimes I feel like my sermons lack the wow factor.

Do you think yourself wise? Then there’s a donkey inside your waistcoat.  Do you think yourself handsome?  Then there’s a bernerk in your beard.

If I had to choose, I would rather smoke a cigar than a stick of barley-sugar.

All men are sinners and need to be saved but I think the French are a little worse than most.

My wife is a dem fine gel.

Oh yeah?  How about you try climbing all these stairs up to the pulpit Sunday after Sunday then see how dang cheerful you are.

Well well well, look at all the Arminians who have joined us this morning. This is a pretty kettle of fish!

I just wish that the outside of me could match the inside of me.

When you preach, either go big or go home.  And at the end of the day, it is what it is.

He who is unmerciful to his beast is worse than a beast himself.  Unless he has a chijuajua.

Well, there you have a small sampling of this amazing and surprising book.  I hope you were as inspired by these quotes as I was.

(Disclaimer: I have not yet authenticated this book, so I cannot vouch for the veracity of these quotes.  I’m planning on taking it to my friend Chuck the Authenticator as soon as I can locate where he’s currently living.  He moves around a lot.)

Prayers That Rock the Tree

When we get discouraged in prayer because we haven’t yet seen the answer, let’s remember these words from Charles Spurgeon:

“Some mercies are not given to us except in answer to importunate prayer. There are blessings which, like ripe fruit, drop into your hand the moment you touch the bough. But there are others which require you to shake the tree again and again, until you make it rock with the vehemence of your exercise, for only then will the fruit fall down.” (Charles Spurgeon)

How To Listen To A Sermon

SermonHave you ever had this happen to you? It’s 11:20 A.M. on a Sunday morning, and you’re listening to a sermon in church. Suddenly, your pastor says, “You know what I mean?” and you realize that you have no idea what he’s talking about, and that you’ve been thinking about college basketball for the last fifteen minutes, and that drool is leaking from the corner of your mouth. In fact, you have absolutely no idea what the sermon is about. Your pastor could be talking about the political and theological ramifications of the television show “Lassie” for all you know. I confess, I’ve had this happen to me.

Scripture places a high emphasis on preaching. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul commanded Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Through the preaching of God’s word we hear God speak to us in a unique way that is different from when we read the Bible in private. Because of this it’s crucial that we hear the word of God preached and apply it to our lives. So how do we get the most out of a sermon? Here are four practical suggestions:

Remember Who Is Speaking

A pastor is someone who has been appointed by God to preach God’s word to God’s people. 1 Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” When we hear our pastor preach God’s word, we’re not just listening to a nicely dressed man giving an Amway prep talk. We’re listening to one that has been appointed by God to proclaim the message of God. I don’t want to mess around with words from God. I want to pay close attention.

Listen Intently

Don’t let your pastor spoon feed you. Listen intently to what he is saying, and measure his words against the words of scripture. Be like the Bereans, who, along with having a sweet name, are described in Acts 17:11 as follows: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Notice the attitude of the Bereans. They were eager to receive the word of God. They desperately wanted to hear God’s word preached to them. But they also examined the scriptures daily to ensure that what they were hearing was really from the Bible. Let’s be like the Bereans.

Listen With Humility

It’s true, we must test the preached word. But it’s just as crucial that we listen to sermons with a spirit of humility. God himself has assigned my pastor (who also happens to be my dad) the job of instructing me in God’s word. It’s my job to listen to and learn from my pastor. This truth should instill a spirit of humility into me. I don’t want to approach listening to a sermon like a spiritual boxing match, ready for a theological fight. I want to listen with humility.

Apply The Word

Throughout the course of a sermon, we should be constantly asking the question, “How does this apply to me?” God intends us not just to hear sermons, but to be transformed by sermons. For this to happen, we must diligently seek to apply the truths we hear. During the sermon, ask yourself, How does this truth apply to:

  • My job
  • My marriage
  • My parenting
  • My Bible reading
  • My hobbies
  • My friendships, etc

A final word. Always pray before you listen to a sermon. Apart from the power of God, all our sermon-listening will be pointless. But the good news is, God is eager to meet us on Sunday mornings.

Now is when you, the alert and sagacious (a word meaning “full of life-changing wit, wisdom, and insight”) reader add your comments.  What helps you get the most out of sermons?  If you’ve never commented before, today is the day!

Originally published March, 2008

Standing God’s Commands On Their Heads

We human beings are funny creatures.  And we Christian human beings are funny new creatures. Sometimes we take God’s commands and stand them on their heads.  Here’s what I mean.

Philippians 2:4 says we should look to the interests of others.  Yet sometimes I hear believers say, “No one takes an interest in me.  No one reaches out to me.”  The Bible doesn’t tell us to make sure people are taking an interest in us, but that we should take an interest in others.  If we want others to take reach out to us, we should reach out to others.  Jesus said whatever you want others to do for you, do for them.  Sow what you want to reap.

I’ve heard folks say, “I quit going to small group because I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”  Oh, we forgot.  Small group is all about you.  God commands us to not neglect fellowship but instead to stir up and encourage one another (HEB 10.24-25).  So we should go with the attitude of how can I contribute tonight, how can I encourage or pray for someone.  When we go to a meeting, we should ask Jesus for opportunities to serve and bless.

Another way we stand God’s commands on their heads is by focusing on the things God commands others to do while neglecting what we should do.  I’ve heard husbands say, “My wife doesn’t submit to me,” while not considering whether they are loving their wives as Christ loved the church.  Don’t focus on what God commands others to do, but what he commands you to do.

How about standing God’s command to worship him on its head?

Ever heard someone say, “Worship didn’t do much for me this morning.”  Awww, we’re sorry your majesty wasn’t entertained and enthralled today.  Maybe we should get Paul McCartney to lead worship next Sunday.  Sorry the smoke machines didn’t fill the room and a few of the explosions were softer than normal.  Maybe we should ask Jesus if he got anything out of our worship this morning.

The main problem in all these examples is our tendency to focus on ourselves instead of God or others.  The more we can get our eyes off ourselves and on to Jesus and others, the more of the Lord’s joy we’ll experience.

photo by travelling.steve